LAST FLAG FLYING review by Patrick Hendrickson – Richard Linklater directs a mismatched trio

LAST FLAG FLYING review by Patrick Hendrickson – Richard Linklater directs a mismatched trio

Last Flag Flying is a story about a road trip involving three old friends and Vietnam veterans played by Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, and Steve Carell. When Carell’s character Larry finds out his son is killed in the Iraq War, he calls on Sal (Cranston) and Mueller (Fishburne) to join him in retrieving his son’s body. All three men are magnificent in their respective roles, but it is Cranston who unarguably steals the show as the alcoholic and irreverent Sal. Carell’s character Larry is what sets things in motion and his grief is at the forefront of the movie. The weakest link is Fishburne’s character, Mueller, who simply feels along for the ride most of the time. That being said, Mueller and Sal have the best chemistry of all the characters in the movie. They squabble constantly and have some very genuinely funny moments together. Carell’s performance is more muted and subtle comparatively but considering the circumstances this is understandable.

The film (directed by Richard Linklater) straddles the line between a bleak comedy and an even bleaker emotional drama and this is done a relatively effective manner. There are a few comical moments that fall flat, and there are a few emotional moments that are not terribly affecting, but generally the movie hits the right notes at the right times. There is also a very satisfying conclusion to the story that ties together various elements of the plot together nicely. The movie itself is a relatively well-made production with strong leading actors, but the subtext of Last Flag Flying is where things start to falter. Comments on the Vietnam War, on the Iraq War, and on the early 2000s are prevalent throughout the film, with one particularly humorous scene involving the three friends purchasing their first ever cell phones. The issues come once commentary on the Iraq War comes to the forefront of the story.

Criticism of the war is at this point in time not a difficult, unique or even brave position to take. Comparison of the Iraq War to the Vietnam War is not a particularly new take on things either. Last Flag Flying dares to take the responsibility of portraying these things but does not have anything new to add to the conversation, and its repetition of what has already been said about the Iraq War is done in a mediocre manner. It feels like the harsh words given by the writers of this movie are a decade and a half late. The subtle anti-Iraq War sentiment that is present in this film is not a brave sentiment now but it would have been one back in 2003 when the movie is set. That was the time when this kind of film would have been needed the most. The grief of the Iraq War is personified in Larry’s grieving for his lost son and it has a powerful effect on it. The performance itself by Carell is a good one but sadly it is overshadowed by the more energetic Sal. The mix of these two characters is an odd one and at times Sal’s antics distract both Larry and the audience from the solemn circumstances. This speaks wonders about Bryan Cranston’s performance in the role.

Leaving aside the political subtleties of Last Flag Flying leaves it simply as an average piece of art exploring grief and brotherhood among veterans. There are a few brief moments of brilliance within it and that alone would have been enough to give this movie a recommendation, albeit a somewhat hesitant one. Criticizing the social commentary of this production might seem to be misguided but to ignore it would also to be ignoring an aspect of this story that the filmmakers felt was worth having in the film. Overall, the commendable effort by Linklater gets a 3/5.

LAST FLAG FLYING opens November 10, 2017

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